Monday, 22 February 2016

Post 74: Graduate Student Opportunities at UVic

I'm blessed with a particularly active department that has seen a significant rise in the number of graduate students admitted in the last few years. With that have come several new faculty members, and a larger capacity to undertake various events. The seminar series that for my cohort's first year was optional has become a mandatory class component that regularly draws guests from other departments. Taking a leadership and organizational role to get it organized has been capably managed and supported by several different graduate students in my department, and it's really great to see.

Spring flowers on the front porch! Love the colours!
There are always lots of different ways to get different experiences other than simply attending class and doing research, and I think it's a good idea to explore different facets of academia to see if it's a good fit for you if you want to continue on as a graduate student, or in academia in general. Also, life experience! It's valuable, and as you work through different challenges you get to know more about yourself, even if it's as simple as Teaching is a lot harder than I expected or I need to work on my time management more!

Last year I saw an opportunity to join on as a graduate student representative to sit on UVic's Ethics Review committee. There are always emails looking for graduate students from across departments to sit on various university committee such as for the Senate, the Board of Governors, Excellence in Teaching Awards, Academic Accommodation and Accessibility for Students with a Disability, Childcare Advisory and many, many others. The Graduate Student's Society provides a good overview here. 

These lovely Chionodoxa luciliae have popped up in my neighbourhood the last few days!
There are also other ways to get involved. Did you attend a conference that you really loved? Talk to the conference organizers. There are usually things that you can do, even if it's as simple as talking up the conference among your colleagues back at your university. I attended the Northwest Climate Conference this past November (see my review post here) and after observing that there weren't many Canadians in attendance, and talking to one of the main conference organizers, I found myself stuttering to respond to an invitation to join the Steering Committee to work to get wider attendance. I haven't taken that on because I'm working on finishing my thesis, but it may be something I find I'm able to put energy into later in the year. I took on the logistics coordination role for CONFORWest 2014 (which I wrote about here), and developed a friendship with a colleague that I deeply respect and admire, and whose friendship I value greatly. 

Aside from the usual opportunity of getting teaching and marking experience through TAing, there are usually some research assistant opportunities, too. Talk to your supervisor and other professors in your department, as well as your graduate student advisor, as they likely have the beat on who's looking for a bit of research support. 

I loved the aesthetic of the leaves on this mystery neighbourhood bush! Fascinating!
And, there might also be some other closer-to-home opportunities like taking leadership on organizing your lab meetings. I did this last year, and it was a lot of fun! These kinds of administrative duties will likely colour our experiences, but they can also be productive breaks from data crunching and thesis writing.

If you are a teaching assistant on campus, consider volunteering with our union, CUPE 4163. There is endless energy and effort that can be poured into the union, which supports us in a lot of (often invisible) ways, from bargaining for our working conditions, providing arbitration support for graduate students with various grievances, to providing some travel funding for conferences. I took on a position as the Recording Secretary for a year, and have now shifted to a less demanding position as Alternate Trustee. We checked through the finance documentation in the fall, and that was me done for the 2015-2016 year. And it was a great experience! Currently, for example, they are in bargaining with UVic, and there's lots of help they could use with that! They also always have our Collective Agreement on their website, if you need to look something up. 

As always, I emphasize prioritizing your work, your health, and your needs, but if you have a bit of extra time, there are lots of ways to get both a wider experience in the university community, and be a part of building a richer community within your graduate experience. 

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